Image of Hammer and Sickle

New Communist Party of Britain

Oliver Cromwell

1599 - 1658

Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the English Revolution, died on 3 September 1658. Cromwell, the MP for Huntingdon, was the leading Parliamentary commander during the English Civil War which began in 1642 and ended in 1649 with the trial and execution of Charles Stuart and the abolition of the monarchy. The Republic of England, or Commonwealth as it was styled in English, was proclaimed soon after. In 1653 Oliver became head of state, the Lord Protector.

The republic he led included England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland as well as colonies in New England and the Caribbean.Cromwell died in 1658 and his son, Richard, succeeded him. Richard was neither a politician nor a general. The new Protector was unable to reconcile the republican generals with the demands of the rich merchants and landowners that wanted to curb the influence of the New Model Army. Richard resigned in 1659. The government collapsed and the monarchy was restored in 1660.

Cromwell's role in the struggle, particularly his suppression of the radical Leveller movement, has been the subject of much debate down the ages.

This is what the German social-democratic leader Eduard Bernstein said in his book "Cromwell and Communism" which was first published in 1895.

HISTORICAL research during the nineteenth century has removed many of the distortions which hitherto disfigured the image of Cromwell as handed down by his contemporaries. The victor of Dunbar no longer appears to us to day as the double-tongued schemer, as he was considered by many of his brothers-in-arms, as the "great impostor", who for. the mere gratification of his ambition would not scruple to tread underfoot what but yesterday he had passionately upheld. Gardiner's book has dispelled almost the last doubts in this respect, and explained many changes hitherto unaccounted for in Cromwell.

The various forces, influences, and circumstances which determined Cromwell's actions are more clearly analysed, and assigned with greater chronological accuracy than ever before. It appears on almost every occasion that Cromwell's "deception" turns out to be justifiable opportunism. But what Cromwell gains as a man and a politician he loses as a revolutionist. Whenever the struggle against effete powers threatened to assume a revolutionary aspect, we see him frequently irresolute and even pusillanimous; in every instance he is impelled to decisive action by outside forces.

During the period from 1646 to 1648, in every respect a revolutionary epoch, he is inferior, in perceiving the political measures required and grasping a new situation, to others, more especially to the Levellers. The plebeian-radical elements in the Army and in the civil population became prominent during this time, and determined the course of the Revolution.

The Levellers among the people and the Agitators in the Army were the first to recognise the necessity of dealing sternly with the anti-revolutionary forces, as they were also foremost in perceiving that so long as the Revolution accepted the irresponsible position of the King, and treated him as a prisoner of war instead of as a prisoner of the State, the issue of the struggle remained in doubt.

But the Marxist historian Christopher Hill would later write:

Nor was it a war of the rich only. All sections of society in southern and eastern England brought in their contributions to help to win the war, for in the overthrow of the old regime men saw the essential preliminary condition of social and intellectual advance. Many of those who fought for Parliament were afterwards disappointed with the achievements of the revolution, felt they had been betrayed. But they were right to fight. A victory for Charles I and his gang could only have meant the economic stagnation of England, the stabilisation of a backward feudal society in a commercial age, and yet necessitated an even bloodier struggle for liberation later. The Parliamentarians thought they were fighting God's battles. They were certainly fighting those of posterity, throwing off an intolerable incubus to further advance. The fact that the revolution might have gone further should never allow us to forget the heroism and faith and disciplined energy with which ordinary decent people responded when the Parliament's leaders freely and frankly appealed to them to support its cause.

The great English poets of the 17th century had little doubt about Cromwell's role in history. John Milton wrote:

Cromwell, our chief of men, who
Through a cloud
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless
To peace and truth thy glorious way
hast ploughed,
And on the neck of crowned Fortune
Hast reared GOD's trophies, and His
Work pursued,
While Darwen stream with blood of
Scots imbrued,
And Dunbar field resounds thy
Praises loud,
And Worcester's laureat wreath. Yet
Much remains
To conquer still; peace hath her
No less renowned than war; new foes
Threatening to bind our souls with
Secular chains:
Help us to save free conscience from
The paw
Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is
Their maw.

And let Andrew Marvell have the last word:

Hence oft I think if in some happy hour
High grace should meet in one with highest power,
And then a seasonable people still
Should bend to his, as he to heaven's will,
What we might hope, what wonderful effect
From such a wished conjuncture might reflect.
Sure, the mysterious work, where none withstand,
Would forthwith finish under such a hand:
Foreshortened time its useless course would stay,
And soon precipitate the latest day.
But a thick cloud about that morning lies,
And intercepts the beams of mortal eyes,
That 'tis the most which we determine can,
If these the times, then this must be the man.